x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

For Sebastan Vettel, a scream, a dream come true

Horner, who was mobbed by his elated Red Bull team as fourth-placed Nico Rosberg of Mercedes GP crossed the line, said Vettel deserved his victory.

ABU DHABI // Christian Horner, the team principal of Red Bull Racing, waited until there was absolutely no doubt before shouting down his radio the words his German driver had waited 23 years and four months to hear: "Sebastian Vettel, you are the world champion!"

Vettel last night became the youngest winner of the drivers' championship in the 61-year history of Formula One by winning the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a gripping race at Yas Marina Circuit.

"I am speechless, to be honest," he said, after drying the rose water – the beverage of choice atop an F1 podium in the Middle East – out of his hair. "I don't know what to say at this moment, but it has been an incredible season for myself and for all of us, physically and mentally, especially,"

Vettel, who started the final race of the season in pole position, knew that even if he retained the lead for all 55 laps, the Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso would win the season championship by finishing inside the top four.

However, Ferrari's decision to provide Alonso with an early change of tyres backfired as the Spaniard found himself returning into traffic that he struggled to escape before eventually finishing seventh.

The McLaren-Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were second and third, respectively. Mark Webber, Vettel's teammate at Red Bull who also started the day capable of claiming his first driver's title, struggled for pace at times and ended the race in eighth.

"To be honest, I did not know anything," Vettel said. "I wondered.In the last 10 laps, my engineer Rocky [Guillaume Rocquelin] was giving me advice to help me get the car home. I wondered why he was so nervous; I thought we must be in a good position. Then he said, 'It's looking good.' I didn't know what he meant. I just focused on myself, and then they came on the radio and screamed that we have won the world championship."

Vettel was the only one of the four possible champions, as the race began, to have never led the standings at some point during the season.

He exited his car after the race with tears in his eyes. And they returned irregularly throughout the trophy presentation.

By the time he was sitting in front of the world's media, he had composed himself, yet he continued to struggle to express his emotions.

"I went to bed and kept thinking about the race, about what might happen. I had some good imaginations and a good feeling," he said. "[In the] morning I got up and tried not to think about anything, tried to avoid contact to people too much and just tried to do my own thing.

"I have only led this championship once and [that's been] when it matters, so I am speechless.

"It has been an incredible journey with Red Bull and after this season's ups and downs to come here now and lead the championship after the last race is unbelievable."

Vettel also won the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix last year.

Horner, who was mobbed by his elated Red Bull team as fourth-placed Nico Rosberg of Mercedes GP crossed the line, ending Alonso's championship hopes, said Vettel deserved his victory.

"A great job, he drove a perfect race when the pressure was on," said Horner, whose Red Bull team won the constructors' championship last week in Brazil.

"[Sebastian] has had ups and downs, he's had bad luck, he's had some mechanical problems, some engine failures but he never lost his focus and belief – and now he is a champion. A great season. It's just an amazing feeling to be double world champions, it's the icing on the cake with the drivers' [title]. This team is the best in the world."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae